IS THE BIBLE TRULY WITHOUT ERROR?
Reviewed By David P. Craig
Four primary topics are treated in this multi-view book: (1) God and his relationship to his creatures, (2) the doctrine of inspiration, (3) the nature of Scripture, and (4) the nature of truth.
Instead of allowing the author’s to simply give a defense of their positions – each scholar tackles the same outline and passages from their own perspective with reference to the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (ISBI). Therefore, specific scriptures are handled to demonstrate each view along the lines of three specific categories: (1) The factuality of Scripture, (2) canonical coherence, and (3) theological coherence.
The scholars therefore all interact with the following texts: Joshua 6, Acts 9:9 compared with Acts 22:9, and Deuteronomy 20 in relation to Matthew 5. Joshua 6 was chosen since current details of historical and archaeological evidence have called into question the accuracy of the text’s account of the destruction of of Jericho. The Acts passage which describes Paul’s conversion was chosen due to the apparent discrepancy between what the witnesses saw and heard during this event. For theological coherence the author’s grapple with the question “How is it that Deuteronomy 20 instructs Israel that the complete extermination of Yahweh’s enemies is a matter of Israel’s purity before and obedience to Yaweh, while Jesus subsequently says faithfulness to God requires nonretaliation and sacrificial love of enemeies (Matthew 5:38-48)?”
The scholars addressing these biblical, theological, and historical concerns are two biblical scholars (Michael Bird and Peter Enns), two systematic theologians (John Franke and Kevin Vanhoozer), and one historical theologian (Albert Mohler). Part one consists of Mohler’s and Enns’ essays in a section entitled “Perspectives on Inerrancy and the Past.” In part 2 Michael Bird (hailing from Australia) addresses “Inerrancy from an International Perspective.” In part 3 Kevin Vanhoozer and John Franke represent “Perspectives on Renewing and Recasting Inerrancy Today.” Each essay is then responded to by the other four scholars.
Albert Mohler’s essay was disappointing in that his argumentation was circular and sophomoric. Of all the essays in the book I was looking forward to his the most. It seems that he didn’t put the time into the essay that was necessary. He simply wholeheartedly agreed with ISBI and did a poor job with the biblical material. His historical study of inerrancy was limited to the mid-late 1900’s. Mohler’s essay was answered in broad strokes and an a priori apologetic that was redundant and unconvincing. Mohler does a much better job in his essays of response – especially in his response to Enns. I wish that the editors would have chosen a biblical scholar in place of Mohler (with his same postion) – because his handling of the biblical material was particularly simplistic and weak. It just seemed like Mohler’s schedule was too busy to put the necessary scholarship into his essay. However, I wholeheartedly agree with Mohler’s assessment of biblical inerancy when he says, “I do not believe that evangelicalism can survive without the explicit and complete assertion of biblical inerrancy…The afirmation of biblical inerrancy means nothing more, and nothing less, than this: When the Bible speaks, God speaks.”
Peter Enns came across as just plain “ticked off” at the whole idea of biblical inerrancy. He gave a plethora of reasons why he doesn’t think ISBI is a fair or accurate document. He does not adhere to inerrancy (as defined by ISBI) and calls it “erroneous.” The closest he comes to arriving at any position on the Bible is when he writes: “Scripture is a collection of a variety of writings that necessarily and unashamedly reflects the worlds in which those writings were produced. The implication of this metaphor is that an understanding of those historical settings can and should affect interpretive conclusions.”
Enns handling of the biblical material was influenced primarily by liberal scholarship. He believes the Jericho episode didn’t happen due to the archaeological evidence. He believes Paul’s conversion reports are blatant contradictions. Lastly, he thinks that the God of the Old Testament as described in Deuteronomy is different than the God portrayed in the New Testament. He writes, “Israel’s depiction of God vis-a-vis the nations unmistakably, and understandably, reflects the ubiquitous tribal culture at the time.”
Mohler writes of Enns, “So, taking Peter Enns at his word the Bible contains numerous passages that not only fail the test of historical accuracy (even to the point of questioning whether the exodus took place), but also present a false and dangerous misrepresentation of God’s very character and will.” The overall response of the other essayists was similar to my own own response. I felt that Enns was overly critical of Scripture, and didn’t really give a constructive or positive view of Scripture at all. It felt like his whole essay was reactionary and destructive. There was really no positive argument given. It was a lot like reading the “new atheists” – a lot of attack and very little evidence or support for their own view.
Michael Bird’s essay was perhaps the most interesting of the five. If he ever loses his job as a theologian he could become a night club comic. He provides humor in his essay and in his responses to the other essayists (especially humorous is his response to Enns). Bird has the difficult task of reflecting the idea of inerrancy outside of the USA. He covers a lot of ground and shares where he agrees and disagrees with ISBI. He provides a very balanced essay in his response to ISBI, his historical reflections on inerrancy around the globe, and his biblical argumentation – brief but very cogent and clear. One of the highlights of Bird’s essay was this gem, “The goal of revelation is not knowing facts about God but also enjoying fellowship with God.” Overall Bird’s essay is very witty, theologically insightful, and interesting.
Kevin Vanhoozer’s essay argues for what he terms “A Well-versed inerrancy.” He basis his definition largely on the historic tradition of Augustine. Vanhoozer proposes this definition of inerrancy, “to say that the Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly).” The bulk of Vanhoozer’s essay buttresses his definition of inerrancy with a particular interest in the terms “truth” and “language” and he ties these concepts to the writings and concepts developed by Augustine. His essay utilizes careful language and sophisticated theological and philosophical depth that one would expect of a top-notch systematic theologian. Vanhoozer handles the biblical passages with tremendous theological and exegetical skill.
Vanhoozer gives the practical importance of a well-versed inerrancy with these words: “Implicit in my definition of inerrancy is that we be not only literate readers who rightly see what proposition an author is proposing (the literal sense) and what kind of attention to this proposition is required (literary sensibility) but also right-minded and right-hearted readers who respond rightly to each and every communicative act of Scripture (Spirit-given literacy) Ultimately, a well-versed approach to inerrancy constitutes nothing less than a standing requirement that the community of Scripture’s interpreters become persons capable of understanding, loving, and participating in the truth.”
I love the conclusion to Vanhoozer’s essay where he quotes Augustine’s approach to the veracity of the Scriptures: “And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to the truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand.” Of all the essays, I found Vanhoozer’s to be the most theologically profound and exegetically sound.
John Franke does not believe that the ICBI should serve as the standard-bearer for inerrancy. He offers an alternative model – what he calls a fallibilist perspective, “inerrancy functions only within the limits of language alone. It applies to Scripture only in the context of the original settings in which the texts that we have were constructed, and its affirmations and teachings cannot be abstracted from those contexts and offered as absolute truth, because only God knows and is Truth…this means that the ultimate truth and inerrancy of the Bible are finally contained not in the particular narratives and teachings of individual texts but rather in relation to its intended purpose and function in the economy of God…the Bible is that language the Spirit appropriates and employs to effect the social construction of the Christian community.”
Therefore, for Franke, the Bible is essentially fallible because it was written by fallible human beings. He expects that the Scriptures will contain errors and in his discussion of the biblical passages he is not troubled in the slightest by the historicity of the conquest of Jericho, nor the historic details of Paul’s Damascus Road vision. He seems more concerned about the big picture than the little details of the Bible. In doing so – he never quite tells us what inerrancy is. He never tells us what truth is. I found his essay to be confusing, fragmented, and unconvincing in regards to his theology, epistemology, and exegesis.
On the whole this is a fascinating multi-view book. The terrain covered is theologically rich, historically insightful, and exegetically helpful. The final chapter written by Stephen M. Garrett and J. Merrick was just what the doctor ordered. It helped bring synthesis, clarification, as well as a much needed explanation of the continuity and discontinuity on the spectrum of issues presented throughout the book. I highly recommend this book for everyone who loves God’s Word and is seeking to know, love, and live out His truth as revealed in the Scriptures.
HOW SHOULD WE PRACTICE BAPTISM IN THE CHURCH?
Book Review by David P. Craig
In this multi-view book we have three views presented: (1) Believer’s Baptism (credobaptism – “credo” being from the Latin for “I believe”) – presented by Dr. Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; (2) Infant Baptism (paedobaptism – “paidos” from the Greek for “child”) – presented by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, the Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina and professor of systematic theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas; and (3) The Dual-Practice Baptism View – presented by Dr. Anthony N. S. Lane, professor of historical theology at London School of Theology in Northwood, England. The book was edited by David F. Wright (1937-2008), professor of patristic and Reformation Christianity at New College, University of Edinburgh, Scotland – and after his death in 2008 by Daniel G. Reid, the senior editor for reference and academic books at IVP Academic.
The structure of the book is that each scholar gives his argument for his own position using biblical, theological, and historical support. After each presentation – the other two author’s counter, and the presenter responds to the two counter arguments. Such is the case for each presentation.
(1) Bruce Ware argues for credobaptism – “only those who have already become believers in Christ should be baptized and that this baptism should be by immersion in water.” In his biblical defense of believers’ baptism he gives an abundance of linguistic and contextual support for baptism by immersion from the New Testament (NT – from this point on). He then shows that every clear instance of baptism in the NT relates to the baptism of those who have repented of sin and come to faith in Christ. In this section he highlights and discusses eleven passages from the book of Acts where Luke presents a clear and unambiguous depiction of baptism as being performed only on believers. Next he shows the absence of non believers’ baptism in the NT. He then presents a case against infant baptism from its absence in the NT.
In the theological section of his essay he gives a thorough presentation of the meaning of the new covenant and what remains the same and what has changed from the OT to the NT. He writes, “If the NT writers genuinely saw a parallel between physical circumcision and infant baptism, it is utterly remarkable that they never said so in the NT….As I endeavor to explain, the fact that circumcision functioned at two levels, both for the ethnic and national people of Israel and for the spiritual reality of being separated unto God, indicates that the sign and seal of baptism simply is not meant to be seen as parallel to circumcision…That is not to deny any relation between circumcision and baptism. Where circumcision and baptism are parallel is exactly where Colossians 2:11-12 see them as parallel, namely, in the spiritual reality to which each of them points…In short, the parallel between circumcision and baptism in the new covenant is not between physical circumcision and infant baptism; rather, the parallel is between spiritual circumcision of the heart and baptism, which signifies regeneration, faith and union with Christ…So then, since only the actual spiritual reality is in view when one is baptized, the sign and seal of baptism relates only to those who have experienced this spiritual reality, that is, to believers in Jesus Christ. The new covenant encompasses only those who know the Lord, those who have been united with Christ, those in whom the Spirit has come to dwell through faith. As such, baptism, the sign and seal of this reality (i.e., not of the promise but of the reality itself), applies rightly only to believers in Jesus Christ.”
One of the most interesting quotes from the historical arguments in his essay comes from a passage in Justin’s Apology quoted in Stander and Louw on what was required by a person before he was accepted for baptism in the early church (100-165 A.D.), “firstly, the person had to believe in the truth of the Christian doctrine; secondly, he had to undertake to live accordingly; thirdly, the baptismal candidate had to undergo a period of devotion and fasting in which he had to request God to forgive all his past sins…Since only mature persons could satisfy these preconditions, it undoubtedly excludes the possibility that infants were involved in these activities.” Examples like this one show that infant baptism did not develop in any significant way until the fourth century.
Dr. Ware concludes his essay giving two practical ramifications that believers’ baptism provides for the health and well-being of the church: “First, the practice of credobaptism has the potential of providing a young Christian a wonderful and sacred opportunity to certify personally and testify publicly of his own identity, now, as a follower of Christ…Second, the practice of credobaptism grounds the regenerate membership of the church…If membership in the new covenant and hence in the church comes via infant baptism, yet salvation comes only by faith, then it follows that paedobaptist churches are necessarily afflicted with the problem of a potentially significant number of unregenerate church members.”
(2) Sinclair Ferguson argues for paedobaptism – “baptism is the sign and seal of the new covenant work of Christ and is analogous to circumcision, which was the sign of the old covenant of Israel. The biblical continuity between the covenants demands that infants of believers be baptized in addition to those who come to Christ at any age. The mode of baptism is not at issue.” Dr. Ferguson’s essay traces the evidence for infant baptism starting with the historical evidence from the post-apostolic period onward; then provides a biblical and theological perspective (redemptive-historical). Lastly, he draws some conclusions about the baptism of the infants of believers.
In the first part of his essay Ferguson draws upon a snapshot of instances where infant baptism is practiced by the early church: (a) records of mortality – some dating back to the turn of the third century; (b) works of theology – Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage refer to infant baptism in their writings; (c) evidence from liturgy compiled by Hippolytus of Rome (d. ca. A.D. 236). It’s interesting that none of these practices give a theological reason for the practice of infant baptism.
Ferguson writes, “Was the title to baptism of these children grounded in either (1) the faith of their parents/sponsors?–which would be somewhat akin, as we shall see, to a covenantal approach to infant baptism–or (2) was the confession of the parents/sponsors viewed as an expression of the ‘faith’ of the infants themselves?–which would be in keeping with the wording of later inscriptions describing the deceased infant as being ‘made a believer’ at the point of baptism.”
In the second part of the essay Ferguson discusses the importance of covenant signs in the Bible: (a) Noahic covenant – the sign of the rainbow (Gen. 9:12-16); (b) Abrahamic covenant – the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17:11); and (c) Mosaic covenant – the Sabbath day (Ex. 31:16-17). Ferguson comments, “In their own context each of these covenant signs pointed forward to a fulfillment in the new covenant in Christ…This background shows that the physical signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper which Jesus instituted belong to a larger pattern and should be interpreted in the light of this biblical-theological tradition. Baptism cannot be fully understood abstracted from this matrix.”
Ferguson gives the following definition of baptism from the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Baptism (and all the biblical sacraments) are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.”
Then Ferguson explains how the sign of circumcision in the Old Covenant is transferred to baptism in the New Covenant: “Baptism functions in relationship to the new covenant in Christ in a manner analogous to the function of circumcision in the Abrahamic covenant. In a word, baptism has the same symbolic significance in relationship to fellowship with God as did circumcision…Baptism signifies all that is in Christ for us; it points us to all that he will do in us and all that we are to become in him…Baptism is not primarily a sign and seal of faith, but to faith.”
In Ferguson’s biblical-theological defense of infant baptism he grapples with the following issues: (a) how circumcision is fulfilled in Christ for the nations; (b) how union with Christ is expressed in baptism; (c) the baptism of Christ and what it means for us; (d) how baptism expresses the fellowship of God within the Trinity; (e) how baptism functions as a sign and seal; (f) divergent views of infant baptism – contrasting the catholic view and subjectivist view (Protestant); (g) How baptism signifies and seals the covenant of grace; (h) the covenant principle and practice of infant baptism; (i) the harmony of paedobaptism with the New Testament mindset; (j) the implications of baptism.
(3) Anthony Lane argues for the dual practice view – “affirms both adult, or convert, baptism and either paedobaptism or adult baptism as legitimate options for those born into a Christian home.”
He begins his essay by sharing his experiences (the only one of the author’s to share his personal baptism experience) of being baptized in the Anglican church at the age of three, as well as being a part of baptistic churches for the past thirty years. He writes, “At a later stage I read George Beasley-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament. This Baptist author persuaded me that New Testament baptism was no so much believers’ baptism as converts’ baptism. Thinking about this made me realize that Baptist and paedobaptist practice are alike modifications of this. At the same time I was concerned about the fact that my children appeared to be believers but were not yet baptized, a situation I could not square with the New Testament. The suggestion that such children should take communion until they were old enough for baptism struck me as hopelessly confused. So Beasley-Murray (with help) moved me away from the Baptist position.”
In his biblical analysis of baptism he writes, “If we look at these passages (he sites 14 passages from the book of Acts) and ask what was expected to happen, we find four things that repeatedly occur: repentance, faith, baptism, and reception of the Holy Spirit.”
Lane’s essay hones in secondly on the historical development of what he calls “conversion” baptism (he gives the greatest amount of ink to this section). He takes what he calls a “seismological approach” from the 5th century and back tracks to the New Testament. He believes that there is enough evidence to advocate for both paedobaptism and believers baptism in the early history of the church.
The third part of Lane’s essay focuses on theological and practical considerations of performing dual-baptism. Lane explains, “It must always be remembered that for those raised in a Christian home, baptism, is not an isolated event but simply one stage in a lengthy process…The New Testament practice of baptism was converts’ baptism, the immediate baptism of those who come to faith as part of their initial response to the gospel. This needs to be modified for children born into a Christian home, either into infant baptism or into baptism at a later date. The New Testament evidence for how such children were treated is not unambiguous. Both approaches can be defended on biblical grounds. No grounds exist for insisting on one to the exclusion of the other. This policy of accepting diversity is the only policy for which the first four centuries of the church provide clear evidence.”
In the final analysis for Dr. Ware credobaptism is primarily “a sign of our faith and act of obedience and commitment to Christ.” For Dr. Ferguson paedobaptism is primarily “a sign of what we receive from Christ.” For Dr. Lane paedo or credo baptism (together with faith and in a subordinate role) is primarily “an instrument by which we embrace Christ and his salvation.”
Each essay tackles the issue of baptism quite differently. I would say that Dr. Ware (credobaptism) does the best job with the biblical evidence and with an exegesis of baptism. Dr. Ferguson gives a very articulate presentation of the theological reasoning behind paedobaptism. Dr. Lane (dual-view) does the best job of presenting an early history of baptism. In my opinion the one who does the most balanced job in handling the biblical, historical, and theological evidence for his position is Dr. Ware.
No matter where you stand on the issue of baptism you will definitely learn a lot from this book. The author’s have done their homework and have written with theological acumen and a cogent articulation of the pro’s and con’s of each view. The one thing I would have liked to have seen at the end of this book is a concluding essay from the editor, or perhaps theologians’ from the three different strands articulated in the book. Another helpful asset would have been a question and answer section from the editor to each author. However, for greater insight into the issues of baptism from three great communicators – one would be hard pressed to find a more balanced presentation on baptism than contained in this “Three Views” book. I recommend this book for pastors, students, and Christians on all sides of the equation. It will help clarify one’s position, perhaps change your position, or stir within you a desire to search the Scriptures, Theology, and Church History for further study. The author’s are firm on their presentations and yet charitable and balanced – which is a good model for those wrestling with this important biblical subject.
FOCUSING ON THE CHARACTER AND NATURE OF GOD FOR A YEAR
Book Review By David P. Craig
This book contains short devotional excerpts (one page a day) from the writings of Henry and Richard Blackaby’s “Experiencing God”; Jerry Bridges “Trusting God”; Chuck Colson’s “Loving God”; Sinclair Ferguson’s “Heart for God”; Andrew Murray’s “Waiting on God” and Working for God”; John Piper’s “Desiring God”; R.C. Sproul’s “Pleasing God”; A.W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God”; and Dallas Willard’s “Hearing God.”
The readings are arranged for each day of the week for Monday – Friday, and then a reading for the weekend. Each reading is based on a verse of Scripture and topic. The back of the devotional features both a subject and Scripture index. After an entire year of going through this devotional here are just a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
“Our greatest need is not freedom from adversity. No calamity in this life could in any way be compared with the absolute calamity of separation from God. In like manner, Jesus said no earthly joy could compare with the eternal joy of our names written in heaven.”
“If we want proof of God’s love for us, then we must look first at the Cross where God offered up His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.”
“What God wants from His people is obedience, no matter the circumstances, no matter how unknown the outcome…Knowing how susceptible we are to success’s siren call, God does not allow us to see, and therefore glory in, what is done through us. The very nature of the obedience He demands is that it be given without regard to circumstances or results.”
“In order to trust God, we must view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith, not of sense.”
“This is real faith: believing and acting regardless of circumstances or contrary evidence.”
What stands out about this devotional are five positive elements: (1) This book is like reading wisdom from a wise godly grandfather – it is biblical, but lived out on the anvil of many years of godly Christian living; (2) It is saturated with Scripture – each author quotes an abundance of Scriptures in illustrating and applying each truth they present; (3) It is God drenched – all of the meditations elevate your view of God and help you to focus on His glory. (4) It is filled with practical applications. (5) It leads you time and time again to worship the Lord in prayer – particularly – gratitude, thanks, and adoration. For these reasons of balancing the head, heart, and hands for God’s glory I highly recommend this excellent devotional.
WHY PUTTING JESUS FIRST RESULTS IN JOY
Book Review by David P. Craig
In this insightful book Sproul helps the reader discern what true biblical joy consists of. It is not based on our circumstances, or even our personality. Sproul writes, “The key to the Christian’s joy is its source, which is the Lord. If Christ is in me and I am in Him, that relationship is not a sometimes experience. The Christian is always in the Lord and Lord is always in the Christian, and that is always a reason for joy. Even if the Christian cannot rejoice in his circumstances, if he finds himself passing through pain, sorrow, or grief, he still can rejoice in the Lord, and since He never leaves us or forsakes us, we can rejoice always.”
R.C. helps the reader by taking you to key passages of Scripture from Philippians, James, Romans, and the Gospel of John and gleans principles on the ground and source of our joy as being in Christ – who never changes and will never leave nor forsake us. The primary enemy of our joy is anxiety. Fear and anxiety rob us of our joy. However, if we understand who Christ is, and what he has done for us it deepens and opens up a new dimension of joy in us.
The acronym J-O-Y is used to demonstrate that Jesus first, then others, and then you – is actually a good way to practice the habit of joy in our lives. If we focus on Jesus – who is perfect, never changing, loving, and so forth – instead of our imperfect selves, or the imperfections of others and changing circumstances we can maintain and equilibrium of and growth in the genuine joy of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us as Christians. According to Sproul the reason that joy is often so elusive s because we put ourselves first, and Jesus last.
I love what Sproul has to say about Jesus’ own joy: “Jesus is the only person in history who spelled the word joy without putting the letter ‘j’ first. He put Himself last in order to make it possible for us to participate in joy.” The greatest joy anyone can possibly have is knowing and being like Jesus – trusting and believing in His redemptive work on our behalf. By participating (abiding) in our new life with Christ as forgiven, reconciled, children of God we have everything we need to live in peace and joy with God, others, and ourselves. Joy is possible because of Jesus alone. Even our continued struggles with sin, doubts, guilt, and so forth can never take away His righteousness in exchange for our sins and His gift of eternal life. Since our names our written in the Lamb’s Book of Life we have reason to rejoice no matter what our circumstances are – because ultimately we win in Him. We can always rejoice “in the Lord” – because the Lord has an infinite supply of unchanging perfections for us to delight in.
A GUIDE TO THE BIBLE’S STORY, SYMBOLISM, AND PATTERNS
Book Review by David P. Craig
My wife and I have a tradition that we have practiced over our 21 years of marriage. Once every two to three years we plan a trip somewhere in the United States we’ve never been to before. We have gone to Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Seattle, Honolulu, Minneapolis, Orlando, Austin, San Diego, and several others. Before we go to the city we buy a really good map that gives us the lay of the land. Once we are there the first thing we do is go on a city-wide bus tour. In doing these two things it helps us to appreciate the history of the city, landmarks, and highlights we don’t want to miss during our stay. We get an overview and the big picture of the city before we enjoy its constituent parts.
Hamiton’s book is like a map or tour of the Bible. He helps you not to miss the most important stories, symbols, and patterns that are featured in the Scriptures. All of the biblical authors do “biblical theology.” They have a framework or world-view through which they interpret and describe the events, stories, and principles through this lens. All of the authors interpret Scripture in three ways (1) They interpret the words or accounts of God’s words and deeds that have been passed down to him; (2) They interpret world history from its creation to its final consummation; and (3) They interpret events and statements that they describe. According to Hamilton biblical theology in essence “means the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.”
By taking into account the different genres of Scripture and their various themes, Hamilton helps the reader appreciate the biblical “lay of the land” in it’s varied history, and its consummation centered around the gospel and the glory of God in Christ. I think the thesis of this book is wonderfully expressed by Hamilton in the second chapter: “Our aim is to trace out the contours of the network of assumptions reflected in the writings of the biblical authors. If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about story, symbol, and church, we will glimpse the world as they saw it. To catch a glimpse of the world as they saw it is to see the real world.”
I believe this book is indeed a fantastic guide in helping all Bible students to understand, appreciate, and enjoy the biblical message intended by the author of the word – the Word – Jesus himself. We learn how to read, understand, and interpret the Bible from the perspective of the biblical authors, which is to learn a divinely inspired perspective. I believe that Hamilton achieves his hope and desired purpose for everyone who reads this book: “My hope is that you cross the bridge into their [the biblical authors] thought-world and never come back. I hope you will breathe the air of the Bible’s world, recognize it as the real Narnia, and never want to leave.”
UNEXPECTED ANSWERS TO LIFE’S BIGGEST QUESTIONS
Book Review by David P. Craig
The foundation for this book was laid when Tim Keller was in college. He had recently come into a personal relationship with Christ and learned how to study the Bible guided by a book entitled Conversations with Jesus Christ from the Gospel of John by Marilyn Kunz and Catherine Schell. In close proximity to this study he learned how to read and study the Bible inductively. He attended a conference for Bible study leaders where one of the instructors had each student take 30 minutes to make 30 observations from Mark 1:17, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In the first 10 minutes he thought he wrote down everything he had observed about the surrounding passage from the text. However, the gold was mined in minutes 20-30. It was through the patient and inductive wrestling with the text where the gold was found.
In this book of encounters with Jesus Tim Keller mines spiritual gold.The first five chapters are based on talks given by Keller to students – most of whom were spiritual skeptics – at the Town Hall in Oxford, England in 2012. These first five chapters reveal the foundational teachings of Christianity and the astonishing character of Jesus in particular as he encounters Nathanael, the Samaritan Woman and a Pharisee, Mary and Martha, Guests at a Wedding Party, and Mary Magdalene. In each of these encounters important questions are addressed to and by Jesus and one learns how to read the Scriptures copiously and glean the answers to life’s greatest questions. Questions such as: What is the world for? What’s wrong with the world? Can anything or person make the world right? How can we be part of the solution to making the world right?
Keller’s thesis is that “if you want to be sure that you are developing sound, thoughtful answers to the fundamental questions, you need at the very least to become acquainted with the teachings of Christianity. The best way to do that is to see how Jesus explained himself and his purposes to people he met–and how their lives were changed by his answers to their questions.” Therefore, the first half of this book is devoted to encounters “others” had with Jesus.
The second half of the book is devoted to how we can encounter Jesus today in the 21st century. How can we be changed by Jesus? How can we know Jesus intimately and personally? How can we discover what the people discovered in the biblical encounters with Jesus in my own life? The second half of the book is based on talks that Keller delivered at the Harvard Club of New York City over a period of several years. Keller was addressing business, cultural, and governmental leaders – highly educated individuals who shared their doubts and questions with Keller. Therefore, by highlighting pivotal events’ in Jesus’ life – his temptation with Satan, his sending of the Holy Spirit, his road to the cross, his ascension, and his incarnation – we learn of the significance of the Person and work of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.
I think this book is an especially good book to give to spiritual skeptics. With the holidays coming upon us it would make a great gift for friends, people you work with, and loved ones whom you desire to know Jesus personally and intimately. Keller writes cogently, concisely, and compellingly. He wisely interprets and applies each encounter with Jesus and highlights why we all need Jesus in our lives. For each human being there is no greater encounter that we can have than with the person and work of Jesus in and on our behalf. I highly recommend this book to quench your thirst for the only One who can satisfy our thirst – the Lord Jesus Christ.
DAILY REFLECTIONS FOR CHANGING HEARTS AND LIVES
Book Review By David P. Craig
How would you like to spend every day of the year with a wise biblical counselor to encourage you and help you apply the gospel to your life? In this daily devotional that’s exactly what you get. From the writings of Paul David Tripp, Edwin T. Welch, Timothy S. Lane, William P. Smith, Michael R. Emlet, David Powlison, Robert D. Jones, and James C. Petty you will get advice, encouragement, direction, and plenty of gospel centered grace for each day.
The topical meditations in this devotional are all based on passages of Scripture and include a suggested daily reading from the Scriptures to illuminate the subject of the day. All of the authors of this book are a part of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation which “exists to teach people how to explore the wisdom and depth of the Bible and apply its grace centered message to the problems of daily living.”
One of the nice features of this devotional is that there is a Scripture index in the back, as well as a source index so you can go to any one of the author’s writings for more study or advice on the particular subjects that are of interest to you. All of the sources include the page numbers from which the meditations are derived so you can track them down easily.
If you are looking for more grace in your life and want to go deeper in your understanding of, and application of the gospel – look no further than this devotional gem. I highly recommend this outstanding devotional as one that will help you grow in intimacy with our awesome God and change you to become more like Him as you daily center your thinking on who He is and what He has done for you in Christ Jesus.
A GREAT WAY TO INTERACT WITH THE BIBLE
Book Review by David P. Craig
The Bible is without question the best selling book of all-time. However, it’s also perhaps the most un-read or neglected book of all time as well. J.H. Smith has said, “If all the Christians were to dust their Bibles at the same time, we would have the greatest dust storm in history.” In my opinion nothing is more important than daily intake and interaction with the Bible. As Vance Havner has stated, “If you see a Bible that is falling apart, it probably belongs to someone who isn’t!”
The problem for many people when coming to the Scriptures is they get bogged down with names they can’t pronounce, places they are unfamiliar with, and concepts that are sometimes obtuse and abstract. What Ellis has provided in this very helpful book is a question for every single verse in the New Testament. In other words, he has provided a way for the reader to interact and dialogue with God. He has provided a resource that keeps your mind, heart, and will focused because it is a means of studying the Scriptures relationally by asking great questions of the text.
Ellis has structured the book in several helpful ways:
(1) Each chapter has a question for each verse of the New Testament. For example for Matthew 1:1 the question asked is “Who is Jesus identified as?” There are either “What?”, “Why?”, “Whose?”, “When?”, “How?”, or “Where?” questions for each verse and for every chapter of the New Testament. There is ample room provided for you to write your answer down for each question in the space provided.
(2) The actual verses aren’t included so you can read from whatever translation you prefer and answer the questions accordingly.
(3) At the end of each chapter there is a place to write answers to the following 4 questions: (a) What does the chapter reveal to you about God? (b) What does the chapter reveal to you about yourself? (c) What does the chapter reveal to you about your relationship with others? (d) What difference does it make?
There are several great strengths to studying the Bible in this manner of asking questions:
(1) It is more like a dialogue than a monologue. You are actually interacting and connecting with God in your reading of the Scriptures. It is as though you are sitting across the table from Jesus Himself – listening, asking questions, in relationship with Him through the text.
(2) It helps your mind not to wander off. You are constantly thinking about what the text is saying – making observations; interpreting; and applying the text to your life.
(3) It’s a great way to read the Bible with your family, friends, or in a group Bible study. It allows you to discuss what the Bible is actually saying in the context of community, fellowship, and getting different perspectives on the questions being asked of the text.
(4) It teaches you how to ask good questions and how to become a more observant and obedient student of the Scriptures.
(5) It will bring to the forefront of your life the deepest and profoundest questions and answers of eternal importance: Why did God create humanity? Why am I here? How can I know God personally? And many others.
(6) Simply by learning to ask good questions you will become a better student in all the great subjects of life. It will help you to become a better reader so that your reading and comprehension will improve in whatever subject you take on.
(7) It will remind you daily of how relevant the Scriptures are to your own life and those you work, study, live, and recreate with.
(8) You will become more like Jesus in your thinking and speech – because one of the most brilliant things about Jesus was He was a master of asking great questions. The more you read this book the better you will become at wisely asking questions of Scripture, of others, and of life itself.
(9) My mentor Bobb Biehl has said, “If you ask shallow questions you get shallow answers, if you ask profound questions you get profound answers.” Therefore, this book does a great job of helping you ask profoundly great questions so that you will get profoundly great answers to your questions of the most profound book in the Universe.
(10) Perhaps the greatest aspect of this book is that it helps you to listen to what God has to say to you through the text. So many studies today focus on the question: “What does this mean to me?” rather than focusing on “What does God mean by saying this to me?” It helps us to listen to what God is actually saying, not what we want Him to say. I think that’s the most important aspect of this practical book.
I highly recommend this resource for students, teachers, pastors, and anyone who wants to have a deeper intimacy with God, understanding of His Word, and greater desire to obey Him in all aspects of life. Ellis has provided an outstanding resource that will only enhance and enrich your experience with God through His Word as revealed in the New Testament.
*B. Tyler Ellis is a College Minister in Newark, DE and you can follow him on Twitter @BTylerEllis and has a website: btylerellis.com/tyler-3/